Karim Younis, the longest-serving prisoner jailed for security-related offenses, was released from prison Thursday after serving 40 years behind bars.
Younis, an Arab Israeli, was convicted of terrorism offenses for the murder of an Israeli soldier in 1980. He was freed from Hadarim Prison, north of Tel Aviv, at 4 a.m.
With a black and white keffiyeh wrapped around his shoulders, the now 64-year-old Younis was met by hundreds of supporters singing the Palestinian national anthem in his home village of ‘Ara in northern Israel.
“Every prisoner’s story is the story of an entire people and I am proud to be one of those who sacrificed for Palestine,” Younis said.
“Forty years have passed as if they were nothing, because we consider this to be one of the main pillars of the struggle,” said Younis, who was carried through the village while holding a Palestinian flag.
Younis is part of Israel’s Arab minority, many of whom identify as Palestinians.
Cousins Maher and Karim Younis, from the Arab town of ‘Ara in northern Israel, murdered Cpl. Avraham Bromberg in 1980. The assailants offered the soldier a ride as he was heading home from his army base in the Golan Heights, then overpowered him, shot him in the head, and stole his weapon. They left him on the side of a road where he was found and brought to a hospital, but he died days later. The killers were arrested two years later and sentenced in 1983.
Maher is due to be released in two weeks. Both were given life sentences but theses were commuted in 2012 by then-president Shimon Peres to 40 years.
Channel 13 reported that National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir ordered Younis be released before dawn in an effort to thwart festivities outside the facility. Though his family came to the prison to pick him up, Younis was taken away in an Israel Prison Service van and handed over to police, who dropped him off at Ra’anana’s Central Bus Station. His family eventually picked him up at 6 a.m.
“The method of release shows how afraid the authorities are that we will celebrate,” an unnamed family member told the network.
Kan news reported that Ben Gvir has also instructed police to prevent public celebrations in ‘Ara. Ben Gvir, who leads the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, justified the order with a legal opinion that such celebrations offer support for terrorism.
Videos posted on social media showed Younis being warmly greeted by friends and family in ‘Ara and apparently giving interviews to Arabic-language media.
‘Ara is a few kilometers from Zichron Ya’akov where Bromberg’s home was. His family reportedly still lives in the area.
תיעוד אחרי 40 שנה: לפנות בוקר בחשאיות שוחרר המחבל כרים יונס, שרצח את החייל אבי ברומברג הי"ד ב-1980. pic.twitter.com/b2NpHLGsxh
— חדשות המוקד (@hamoked_il) January 5, 2023
Younis’s decades in prison made him the longest-serving Palestinian detainee, either from Israel or the Palestinian territories, according to the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club advocacy group.
The organization said Younis was among a group of prisoners up for release a decade ago as part of a deal mediated by the then-US secretary of state John Kerry, but the negotiations ultimately collapsed.
Younis’s brother said his joy was “unlimited” but “incomplete,” as their parents had died during his sibling’s detention.
“His hair and wrinkles have changed, but his resilience increased and multiplied dozens of times,” Nadem Younis told AFP.
“His faith in the cause and his knowledge and skill in politics are stronger. Karim has developed through his sacrifices,” added the 56-year-old.
Slain soldier Bromberg’s sister, Adah, told the Israel Hayom daily on Tuesday that the situation was “unbearable” and that the family had believed the terrorists would spend their entire lives in prison.
“Who would have thought that I would be in a situation like this? I am distraught and unable to function. It is unthinkable that such people should walk among us, laugh, and enjoy themselves. It’s a catastrophe. We don’t know what to do. It takes me back to the day Avi [Avraham] was murdered,” she said.
הבוקר שוחרר האסיר הביטחוני בעל הותק הגבוה ביותר בכלא הישראלי – כרים יונס אחרי 40 שנה.
יונס, ערבי ישראלי, תושב הכפר עארה רצח את החייל אבי ברומברג.
במהלך שנותיו בכלא יונס הפך לסמל, התברג בפת"ח ונבחר בעשור הקודם להיות חבר בועד המרכזי של פת"ח – גוף ההנהגה העליון של התנועה. pic.twitter.com/5FUmG9wiVQ
— Elior Levy • אליאור לוי (@eliorlevy) January 5, 2023
Lawmakers from the Religious Zionism and Likud parties are working on a bill to annul the citizenship of convicted terrorists. It is set to be reviewed by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation.
National Missions Minister Orit Strock, also of Otzma Yehudit, tweeted Thursday: “The Israeli public, watching the celebrations for the release of terrorist Karim Younis today in the village of ‘Ara, expects to see the entire Knesset… unite around this important and elementary law.”
Interior Minister Aryeh Deri has asked Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara to allow the bill to proceed through the Knesset.
“It’s unthinkable that such people should continue to hold Israeli citizenship,” Deri said in a letter to Baharav-Miara, according to Channel 12. “Revoking their citizenship will send an important message when it comes to those who have become icons for committing terrorist, criminal acts.”
The Choose Life organization, which provides support to families of terror victims, welcomed the proposed bill in a statement.
It called on “all the Zionistic parties in the Knesset to advance the legislation as quickly as possible, along with additional deterrent laws” that Choose Life has proposed.
Earlier this week, Younis, a member of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement, said in a statement that his “soul remains with those who hold the embers of the Palestinian struggle.”